Saturday, November 19, 2011

Did the City Decieve Occupy St. Louis About Helping the Homeless?

Last weekend, shortly after the city decided to kick Occupy St. Louis out of Kiener Plaza, I saw the following post on facebook:

I generally like Eddie (who used to work for the Post-Dispatch and now works for Slay), so I decided to investigate what this claim was about. According to the occupiers, Roth and city officials had promised that when they evicted the Occupy St. Louis group from Kiener, they would make sure to find housing for the homeless who had flocked to the Occupy demonstration because it provided a safer and friendlier environment than living on the street (and because housing was not available through the city). Yet, when last Friday rolled around and the police arrested anyone staying in Kiener past curfew, the only thing the homeless received was a slip of paper with the same old phone numbers to call. When they called, they were told there was no new space available.

The claim that Roth promised to provide an alternative came from a general assembly on Wednesday of last week where Roth and fellow Slay representative (and former union supporter) Mary Ellen Ponder were there to present their non-negotiable proposal. As can be seen from this video, there was already tension regarding the city's proposals about the homeless at Kiener, with one of the occupiers asking Roth why the homeless were being used as a bargaining chip by the city:

The comment in question from Roth, however, came earlier in the meeting in response to a different question from one of the group's longtime members, Cheryl, who also happens to be homeless. Roth says in the following video, "I'll be happy to come down with some people tomorrow to make sure to check with you and others."

This, as noted above, apparently did not happen. However, in my Sunshine Law request, I did see an email from Roth to Bill Siedhoff (who coordinates the city's response to homelessness) where Roth specifically mentioned a commitment to two men from the Occupy St. Louis group.

Here's the relevant text:

Hi Bill,

Mary Ellen and I were at Kiener Plaza last night for a second consecutive
night. We presented a proposal we hoped they might agree could serve as an
alternative to the encampment. One element is your stepped up effort,
already underway, to connect the homeless men and women who are participating in
the Occupy St. Louis demonstration with housing and other services.

Durin the back and forth with the demonstrators some, who said they were
homeless, disputed what you had said at Tuesday's meeting and claimed that the
City and other service providers have not been a presence at Kiener Plaza in
behalf of the homeless. I said that I believed the city could find through
its network of providers temporary shelter to all who wanted it.

Two men came up to me at the end of the evening and said they wanted to be
connected to housing and services. I said I would help them. One is going
to call me at 10 a.m. - and said he does not have a phone but will find one to
call me then.

Bill, could you please help me with these two guys--and use them to show the
group what we are capable of doing?

Please give me specific advice on how to simplify the path for these two men
that I can use for one of them when he calls at 10 a.m.

Many thanks,


I checked with several members of the group and as far as they knew none of the homeless people at Occupy St. Louis had been helped out. It's still possible that Roth dropped the ball in following up with Siedhoff, but it certainly looks like he made an effort to help. Nevertheless, as far as the people I spoke with have heard, there has been no actual help. Whatever the exact story is, it seems clear to me that the Occupy encampment, just like Hopeville, is exposing some very serious problems in the City's ability and/or willingness to provide the homeless with adequate resources.

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